As if Barnes and Noble and even Kobo, with their fancy new touchscreen e-readers, weren't a big enough thorn in Amazon's side, Apple has just unloaded some more hurt on the e-book market leader. A new version of Apple's iBooks app for iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone just dropped with a feature that had been lacking compared to Kindle, while the big iCloud announcement from Apples Developer Conference brings even more pain in Amazon's direction thanks to improved iBooks syncing between Apple devices.
Not that long ago (last week as a matter of fact), Amazon's Kindle had a few high profile features that Apple's iBooks app was missing. Sure, you could read e-books on an iPad and the experience was pretty good too. But Kindle users could brag about their "Read-to-Me" feature that allowed the Kindle to read English language text out loud. Sure, it wasn't available on all Kindle e-books, but it was something that you couldn't do on an iPad, at least not with iBooks. Amazon also had its Whispersync network that included the ability to sync your progress in reading an e-book across multiple devices, allowing you to read on your Kindle, then grab your BlackBerry and pick up where you left off on that same e-book using a Kindle app.
Apple released a combination of new products and software updates this week that took big steps toward levelling the playing field, at least where it comes to those two features.
Version 1.3 of iBooks includes a read-aloud feature. At this point, the feature is being touted exclusively on select children's selections from the iBookstore, but once the capability is out there, it's pretty much a given that it will expand in scope. Apple's version also includes the ability to highlight the text as it's being read aloud -something that would definitely be a useful feature with young readers.
Apple's really big announcement this week was iCloud. And while iTunes and music stole much of the spotlight, iCloud brings some very familiar e-book features to the iOS world. Familiar if you own a Kindle, that is. With iCloud, a history of past e-book purchases through the iBookstore is maintained by iBooks and you can download any title on this list from any iOS device running the iBooks app. And, just like Whispersync, Apple stores your progress on an iBook title in iCloud, so if you're reading an e-book on your iPad, then pick up your iPhone and continue that e-book, it's automatically synced and you can pick up exactly where you left off. Bookmarks, highlight text and margin notes are also preserved and synced between devices.
When you're number one, everyone is out to get you. Amazon.com and Kindle have seen more than ample evidence of that during the past few weeks. With these two new features, iBooks has enabled the iPad and even smaller devices like the iPhone and iPod Touch to become even more compelling players in the world of e-books and e-readers. Kindle still holds a price advantage over Apple's pricey iPad and most of it's e-reader competitors (at least when the ad-supported Kindle models are factored in), but that new Kindle tablet that's rumored to be arriving later this year had better bring game.